Sunday, May 26, 2019

Closing a window on a giant

Professor George Kelling - photo Rutgers University 

by Gregory Saville

George Kelling, police scholar and renowned criminologist, died last week. At a time when we thirst for new ideas, Kelling was a giant!

A decade ago, I sat in a sunny Florida conference room packed with 40 police executives gathered to discuss the future of police leadership. At one point I was seated beside Kelling, quite enjoying his easy manner and penetrating ideas. By that point, Kelling’s contribution to policing and crime prevention was legendary, especially an idea he co-authored called the Broken Windows Theory (BWT), also known as quality-of-life policing.


I recall Kelling good-heartedly chastise some police executives in that room when they intimated BWT was zero-tolerance enforcement and aggressive stop-and-frisk tactics. Actually, in contrast to positive crime prevention and BWT research, studies showed that zero tolerance enforcement did not work. 

Yet the reality of our conference discussions was that back at work, far from our vista overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, crime prevention programs were often little more than media-distorted, bureaucratic manipulations. BWT was not zero-tolerance enforcement, but many police departments still applied it that way. 

Kelling repeatedly published articles to correct the combat cop version of BWT: 
“The assertiveness of Broken Windows misdemeanor enforcement, however, does not equate with “zero tolerance” policies and high-arrest strategies, as is sometimes alleged; done correctly, order-maintenance policing does not rely on such practices.”

Our recent Ottawa SafeGrowth training. All through his career, Kelling
insisted on police/community partnerships

Kelling said NYPD worked with private and nonprofit partners and partnered with businesses to improve lighting and streets. However, personally, I saw very few broken windows actually repaired by BWT. 


Kelling’s work represents much more than BWT. He learned the business of policing by walking alongside beat cops in Newark and Kansas City. 

He began his career as a social worker, but in the early 1970s he co-authored a pioneering study into police patrol and discovered routine police patrol had no statistical impact on crime or fear of crime. 

Although police still deploy police vehicles to patrol willy-nilly, Kelling’s experiment suggested resources are far better spent on crime prevention and other problem-solving strategies - an important lesson I learned from Kelling’s writing!

Beat officers joining our community anti-violence training.
Cops learning about community needs; the key to Kelling's work 

My impression is that Kelling cared much about victims from all walks of life, especially the disenfranchised. One of his former grad students shared with me this thought: “He believed in the power of ideas over the power of papers. He planted these idea seedlings and then nurtured and protected them. He was a true believer in the capacity of the police to do good.”

Perhaps if police leaders had ensured officers were properly trained and supervised in problem-solving methods, the broken windows story might have turned out very different! 

The Washington Post says Kelling’s Broken Windows Theory became “a cornerstone of community policing”. I’m unsure if that is true. But George Kelling’s other ideas and his ethics certainly did. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Something for everybody - Teaching children how to play

Brisbane's Botanic Gardens - Photo Creative Commons Lilywatanabe

by Tarah Hodgkinson

While discussing safer cities in her pioneering book, Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs said that “cities have the capability of providing something for everybody” and this includes creating them for everybody. That includes children.

I usually do my best to avoid the children’s area of parks. I’m not a big fan of the running, screaming, whining, crying or even laughing. Kids are great; they are just not for me. But usually once a week I walk through Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens and right past a children’s play area. On a normal day I would breeze on by, yet I recently took notice of a very interesting sign.

Created by the City of Brisbane, this sign asks, “How would you like to play?” It is followed up by 20 images of children signing different options for play, from climbing to sliding to digging. Each image provides a description of the type of activity and how to sign it.

Not only was there signage about how to communicate how to play (emphasizing good communication skills), but it was all-abilities friendly. Children who may be hearing impaired, or delayed in speaking, could communicate with other children what they wanted and be understood.

All-abilities signage

In prior blogs, we have written about the need for all-abilities planning and inclusive neighborhood design.

However, these designs can often emphasize the “disability” side of design with images of wheelchairs or walkers. In this case, all-abilities design is made fun. It is similar to what UK planner Charles Laundry says about making public spaces fun in his landmark book The Creative City and also what we discussed in our previous blogs on design creativity.

What is also impressive here is there is no mention of abilities on the sign. Rather, it is normalized and made part of the overall play experience. Perhaps this is the best way to move forward in all-abilities, inclusive neighborhood design.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Reimagining anti-graffiti

Decades of graffiti in a village underpass

by Mateja Mihinjac

This blog was inspired by a recent trip to my home village of 6,000 residents. Ever since I can remember, every few months the graffiti in the railway underpass near my house is painted over and the broken lights fixed. Shortly after fixing, the signs of vandalism reappear and a few months later the graffiti reappears. This has been occurring for the last 30 years. 

Graffiti at entrance to underpass - 2018

In 2019 after clean-up, graffiti reappears on the opposite side


At the start of my criminology career, I learned that rapid graffiti removal programs were the most efficient way to address the problem because they deny graffiti offenders or “artists” the reward of having their work seen by others. In the 1980s, the famous Broken Windows Theory began with one such program in the New York City subway system’s Clean Car Program – graffiti was removed and vandalism repaired.

Through subsequent research and practical work I learned this approach might not be very effective and cost-beneficial as it is costly, may lead to displacement, fails to account for various motivations in the offenders, and generally fails to permanently eliminate the problem.

Street art in Manhattan, New York

Since then other approaches appeared for addressing graffiti. One approach focuses on anti-graffiti materials and surfaces, increased penalties for “offenders”, and community clean-ups. Another approach designates graffiti walls and education or mural programs for offenders, such as the successful program for talented graffiti artists described in on this blog site by our team member Anna Brassard.

While some cities successfully integrate both approaches, other cities are more polarized in their graffiti management approaches. For example in Ottawa, city leaders maintain a strict no-graffiti policy apart from designated legal graffiti walls and murals under the City’s mural program.

Street art is a regular feature of urban life throughout the world
Conversely, the mayor of the Colombian capital of Bogota has decriminalized graffiti after a tragic event in 2011 when a young artist was fatally shot. Apart from designated off-limit surfaces, graffiti artists in Bogota are free to express their creativity across the city. Graffiti is now integrated into city life and, interestingly, has become a major attraction for visitors.

I don’t argue for one approach over another since different contexts require different solutions. However, if an approach remains unsuccessful over a number of decades, such as in the railway underpass in my home village, it is time to consider alternative strategies. One missing link, however, is the limited voice of local community members.


In her reflection on developing a graffiti strategy for the city of Melbourne, criminologist Alison Young recommended against the city’s zero-tolerance approach with increased criminalization of graffiti artists, the approach which local government had adopted at the time.

She argued for self-regulation where property owners and local public would have a say in the image and identity of their local part of public space by either retaining it or by requesting the local government to remove the newly emerged graffiti. The thinking was that if local communities were given an opportunity for such self-governance, they might develop a greater sense of ownership and care for the local environment.

Melbourne's tourist approach to graffiti
Photo Creative Commons, Bernard Spragg 

The Melbourne strategy has worked - today the city has a successful street graffiti program receiving world-wide acclaim. That success has turned into a major tourist attraction and economic success story for Melbourne including the popular Melbourne Street Art Tours by local tour companies and the annual Melbourne Stencil Festival.

Since 2010 the city has applied a hybrid approach where they now include the voice of business owners in deciding whether graffiti should be retained.

Melbourne provides an innovative answer to the question of whether we should eliminate graffiti, accept it, or channel freedom of expression in a positive direction for the artists and local communities. Despite a plethora of graffiti management practices, one thing is certain: graffiti is here to stay.